Wine is an eminently tasteable product, yet it is often bought blind, and for the most part you either have to know lots or place a lot of faith in salespeople. Conversely, from a wine merchant’s point of view, sampling is all well and good but letting people have at your Margaux can be a costly process.
There are different ways around this problem, the newest being the enomatic dispensers that are cropping up in tasting bars, allowing a browsing process where you pay for each small sample you choose (nitrogen keeps the bottle fresh so none is wasted and the merchant can adjust the prices and sell even the most expensive wines in squirts). The more traditional format is, of course, the good ol’ wine tasting.
What Nicolas Clerc, the affable French sommelier at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant is offering lies somewhere in the middle. These are mini tastings at the wine merchant’s premises, set in the wonderfully atmospheric surrounds of Shad Thames, priced at £10 (redeemable against any purchases made on the night).
I went along to find out about FX Pichler, a top-end Austrian Riesling producer and tasted six wines served in total. They were pretty good, too: lots of heady Riesling aromatics but with zingy, zesty citrusy flavours and great acidity, and dry where a German equivalent would be sweet – real potential for food matching; of the six, the 2004 was really excellent.
In terms of the tasting set-up, it all worked quite well. It was standing all the way and only lasted half an hour, which is fine, but the tastings are, in theory, tutored, and it would have been good to see a map, have alcohol percentages marked on the tasting sheets and, above all, to have more talking through the wines. No need to go right back to basics, just a bit more systematic analysis and in-depth appreciation of individual characteristics, the differences between the wines and so on. It seems a slightly wasted opportunity, given that Msr Clerc, a champion in his trade, is probably very good at doing all these things.
So, on balance, a good compromise between letting people have a sniff of good quality wines and extracting money from them, and you can’t argue with the price, but with just a little bit more focus on the details it could be a really worthwhile thing – enough to check the rise enomatic robots, even.
Le Pont de la Tour
The Butlers Wharf Building
36d Shad Thames
Tel: 020 7403 8403